Second Pint: Bitter comes of age.
Down but far from out, Bitter once again looked in Opel’s direction; the Diplomat having run its course, giving way to the Senator in 1978. Following two years planning and hefty external investment, the SC model was brought forth on the Senator platform. Assisting Bitter with production design were Opel stylists, Henry Haga and George Gallion; Bitter also enlisting Michelotti to assist with body detailing, while Pininfarina undertook wind tunnel tests. Quite what those at Cambiano made of the SC is unknown, especially considering this new upstart’s rather similar lines to Mr. Fioravanti’s contemporary Ferrari 365/400.
Initially offered with a 3 litre in-line six cylinder engine producing practically equal power and torque (180/182) the SC was treated to some tuning in 1983 by Mantzel who enlarged the GM unit to 3.9 litres and 210bhp. A no-cost option three speed automatic from GM was the preferred gearbox with a Getrag five speed manual only taken up by around forty customers. Top speeds approached 140 mph from the larger capacity engine.
Bitter had set up a new enterprise Bitter-Italia; and with the Baur build contract for the CD now ceased, Turin based OCRA was employed in their stead. Subcontracted to bodywork fabrication and assembly prior to shipping to Schwelm, problems quickly bubbled to the surface. Using recycled steel, the first 79 SC’s rusted – fast. Pulling OCRA’s particular plug moved the contract to Maggiore who had worked with Maserati and Bristol. SALT, yet another Turin enterprise produced the nappa leather interiors.
Ever the opportunist showman, Bitter brought SC chassis No.2 to the 1980 Grand Prix de Monaco, which would double as both demonstrator for the press and for those celebrities of the time who tended to gravitate to that most prestigious of locations. Alongside the Lamborghini Countach, the Bitter SC toured the track alongside the streets of the principality as the ideal mobile advertisement for his wares. 1981 saw final assembly of the SC in Bitter’s own plant at the rate of one per week, which by the following year had doubled. As had Erich’s plans; a convertible version alongside a four door saloon.
With space at Schwelm limited, Bitter looked to Graz based Steyr-Puch who gladly took on the SC building role, increasing weekly build rates to 3-4 with the excellent quality they were known for. However, Bitter had stretched more than just the purse strings and whilst sales proved reasonable, the red ink weighed heavily; a total of 462 SC Coupés were built, just 29 RHD.
Undeterred by such piffling matters, Bitter had readied for both Frankfurt and Birmingham 1984 motor shows a four door saloon version of the CD Coupé. Believing this car could conquer not only the Mercedes’ and Jaguars of this world but also the American scene, the Senator’s dimensions required significant and expensive fettling.
Fifteen centimetres was added to the CD’s wheelbase, an inch extra in height. Maggiore were then required to alter the body shell; those two additional doors, larger sills, and both front and rear screen surrounds. Mechanically, a longer prop shaft, re-jigged exhaust and various pipes for brakes all added to the invoice bill. The result was a swift end with just five sedans made.
During all this, Bitter had also instructed British firm International Automotive Design of Worthing for a Monza based cabriolet in late 1981. Two very clean cut prototypes were made although production was outsourced to German Keinath Engineering in 1984. Production again moved slowly but with excellent quality with sadly inevitably low numbers made, just 22 mostly headed to the USA. One exception being the solitary RHD version. Shown at the Earls Court motor show, it was sold. Good authority suggests it still exists.
Almost defying logic, Bitter continued upon his creative pathway to bring his own vision of Opel alongside GM’s products to market. Most were stillborn; ideas drawn up, models made or existing vehicles altered to his plans (again with assistance from Gallion and Eberhard Schultz) but the lack of finance remained the inevitable stumbling block. Vehicles include the Chevrolet Blazer, the more successful the Kadett based Bitter Aero. Not so the Manta based Bitter Rallye. Bitter’s uncanny ability to back the wrong horse is a theme; on many occasions with that particular vehicle about to cease mainstream production.
We focus a little more on these three Bitter Wildcards now.
The Blazer, already in production could have easily been a bespoke Range Rover rival, well before even the Green Oval latched onto those particular avenues of excess to that invective term that nowadays owns today’s roads. One possible rival, the equally flamboyant Monteverdi Safari, based on the International Harvester Scout, suffered a similar fate. This large vehicle required far more alterations to become a Bitter Blazer in readiness for mass production.
The Bitter Aero was the sportingly beefed up Kadett C. This targa top, rally car influenced pocket rocket became a Baur produced Opel Kadett Aero and in just two years managed 1341 sales. The final eleven chassis made were purchased by Bitter himself. These he then altered to his own specifications; namely, twin Solex carburettors fitted, ten black, one navy blue exterior with all-round ATS alloys wheels. Inside saw beige or dark green leather Recaro seating. Renaming these eleven Super Aero’s, it appears some were sold but the majority subsequently given as a PR/marketing sweetener to “the friends and sponsors of Erich Bitter,” in advance of yet more of the German’s ideas.
In the concluding part we examine Bitter’s ongoing development from the mid-90s onto the present day.